fishman, visit tedcfishman.com. >> "at the edge of the precipice" is u.s. house of representatives' historian robert remini's latest book. the come propoise brokered between the north and the south -- [applause] >> thank you for that gracious introduction, and i am delighted to be here at the opening of this commemoration on the civil war. and one of the reasons is i'm here to peddle a new book. [laughter] because this is the prelude to the civil war. and when you think about it, the compromise of 1850 prevented
secession and civil war ten years before it actually happened. and i'm personally convinced, although i can't prove it to you, that had the south secedeed in 1850, they would have made good their independence. the united states would become the disunited states, and once you break it, you can break it again and again, and where would we be today? that's how important it was to work out a solution to the problem that seemed 'em possible. -- impossible to fix. slavery. ..
actually took, how long the south survived, how many victories there were. but 15 years that the compromise of 1850 provided, allowed the north to further industrialize itself so that it could maintain a sustained war and conflict, and had the material and the people to put it on the field where the south, when they lost men, couldn't replace them. and it gave the north 10 years to find abraham lincoln who could put the union back together after it had been split
apart. that's what the compromise did. and so, i think today the idea of compromise is back in vogue. we feel that compromise is the only way you can achieve any kind of success and benefit for the american people. you can't have one side shoved down the throat of the other side what it wants to do, and expect it to last. because once the other side gets back into power, and it's bound to be, they will shove it down the throat of the other side. look at the health care today.
if the republicans win in november, in the house of representatives as some suggest it might, i'm not saying it will, don't you think that one of the first things they will do is change the health care, or maybe even obliterate it. of course, president obama will veto it. if they have a two-thirds vote they can override. or they can wait until they have a president who is with them. that is no way to get things done, and that fortunately was what henry clay understood. because a situation presented itself in 1850, in which the country having defeated mexico,
tour from mexico california, new mexico, present states, arizona, wyoming, parts of colorado, utah, and enormous tract of land. and the south, having done so much to acquire that territory, felt that it had a right to bring its slaves into that territory. slavery was protected under the constitution. and what makes the constitution so remarkable is that it is nothing more than a package of compromises, on almost everything. they disagreed, you take any issue, there would be disagreement. and if one side imposes its
will, it's not going to last. you have to get both sides to agree. how do you do that? henry clay argued that in a real compromise there are no losers. everybody, every side has to feel that there is something that they are getting, that they need, that they want. and in order to get that something, they have to agree to give the other side something that it wants. let me read you what henry clay had to say about compromises. he said, compromise -- politics is not about ideological purity or moral self-righteousness. it is about governing.
and if politicians could not compromise, they could never govern effectively. all legislation, all government, all society is formed upon the principle of mutual concession. concession. politeness. wouldn't that be nice? [laughter] courtesy. nothing gets done unless there are compromises. when i wrote my biography of henry clay, i was going to call at henry clay, the great compromiser. that was the title he earned in his lifetime. he also earned the title the great precipitated. when i put that in my computer,
a came back and said a while. [laughter] >> arthur schlesinger who is a friend said don't use the word compromiser. the american people don't know what compromise means. they think it's about people who have no principles, who have no real understanding of government, who are ready to do anything to get along gilbert sullivan ridiculed it. a little rest of society offenders who might well be underground and never would be missed like so-and-so who are of the compromising kind.
compromise is not about surrendering your principles or your objectives. it is about understanding how government works. in that if you offend somebody, they are going to come back. you've got to go to them and say, for the good of the american people, we need to do this, this and this. look at what's happening in congress today with the reform of wall street, financial reform. they may be getting together. that's the way you have lasting achievement. otherwise, you will have conflict sooner or later. and with what happened in the 1850s, came out of this
situation with the mexican war and the southerners felt they had a right to bring their slaves, their property. and property is defended, supported in the constitution. and the northerners said, we don't want it there. and it wasn't there under mexican law. california was free. new mexico was free. why should we make them slaves? because, the south said, as long as property is protected under the constitution, we can take our slaves their, only when the territory becomes a state, then they can say well, we don't want slavery here. and there's no argument.
the state has that right. but while they are a territory, it remains open. and the north said, the congress can change that. before the mexican war ended, a man by the name of david wilmot introduced a resolution in the house of representatives in which he said in a territory acquired as a result of this war must be closed to slavery. and abolitionists went even further and they said, and the slave trade in the district of columbia has got to be ended. people come here, tourists, foreign dignitaries, and they
see men and women and children bought and sold. what a whore that is. we've got to stop it. you do, said the southerners, and we secede. robert tens got up in the house of representatives and said this is treating the south as though we are not part of the government, as though we have to do what you want us to do. and you don't recognize that our way of life would be jeopardiz jeopardized. so we will leave. and mississippi passed a resolution calling on all the southern states to meet in
convention in nashville, tennessee, on the first monday of june 1850. and they are setting up the machinery to take the south from the union. think of it, how desperate they were. and that's why we were really fortunate to have a man like henry clay in the house, in the senate actually, speaker of the house, who had the vision and the determination and the love of this country to keep it together, to try to work out a compromise. knowing that what you have to do
is wonderful -- is one for you and one for you. and back and forth. and it's got to be important enough for both sides to say okay, i'll go with what i don't like in order to get what i do not need or want. and he worked -- the poor man was nearly in bad shape, and the mississippi resolution had really been inspired by george c. calhoun of south carolina. john c. calhoun said the north is constantly harassing us. they don't understand what the situation is. and, therefore, the southern states need to come together and decide on a course of action. and so, the situation exists and
henry clay worked for weeks. it's not easy to find a solution. look, for example, on the relation between israel and palestine. do you think it can ever be resolved? it's one of those issues that seems impossible. to end. clay said slavery in our time would never be ended. he had a recommendation of how we would go about it. he said pick a date, doesn't matter what date it is, but pick one. let's say 186418541855.
anybody born after that date will automatically become a free on reaching the age of 21. those who were born before that date will remain slaves until they died. and this would be slow, gradual elimination. and he didn't want the slaves, freed slaves to remain in this country. he suggested that they be sent back to where many of them did return, and states today have people whose names are washington and calhoun and such. because clay thought that the
blacks, if everything in this country, will do to the white people what the white people have done to them. he was trying to be realistic, and at the same time he had the workout some things of getting past their crucial state. and the fact -- the radicals, southern radicals began arriving in nashville who planned to take -- to recommend that each state secede from the union. again, imagine what that would have meant had the civil war come in 1850, when the north is not prepared. well, that proviso that he mentioned passed the house because the overwhelming numbers
of north members, but it died in the senate. the south at greater strength, and they blocked it. and every session, it was passed in the house and defeated in the senate. and one thing the southerners insisted on is if there is any mention of the wilmot proviso, we will not buy it. and so, clay realized that's not the way to go. the one solution that some people approved was called popular sovereignty, which was
congress shouldn't decide it, and anyway, but the people who live in the district, they should be side whether they want slavery or not. but in any event, clay thought if i can only keep any mention of that condition out of the compromise, the south might buy it. so, he finally worked out eight resolutions. eight. one for you, one for you, back and forth. and then on a cold, rainy, miserable night, this poor man who was dying, tuberculosis, went to the home of daniel webster. webster had given such a
wonderful speech back in the webster-haiti's debate. again, you know his final conference. liberty and union, one and inseparable. now and forever. you want liberty? you've got to have union. you take this union and your liberty won't mean a thing. and clay thought okay, do it again in 1850. get up and speak. and tell the members that they must not secede. think what would happen to this country. and he outlined his eight proposals, and webster listened. he marveled at what clay have done. you see, ladies and gentlemen,
it takes leadership. it takes a vision. and if you haven't got it, you are no place your content. leadership, and leadership mea means, as speaker of the house, you are not the speaker of your own garden. you are the speaker of the house. and that means both parties. i am the historian of the house, and i have to be very nonpartisan. and my office is there, both sides. and i hope it sounds as though i am not partisan, or i'm in real trouble. [laughter] >> and webster said, i'll support it. he had a perfect holder of secession because he knew it
would bring more, and war never solves are rarely solves any problem. so, clay went back, and then in january, late january of 1850, he got up in the senate and outlined his proposals. california is to come in as a state he or he didn't say what it would be free state or slave state or anything. it listed the pipe is sovereignty beside that. new mexico would have a territorial status. in other words, california would skip a territorial part. why? california's population zoomed from 6000, two over 80, 90,000. practically overnight. why?
they discovered gold. in the sacramento valley. and people, mainly people came out their to find it and take their share. as far as the slavery, the slave trade in d.c., d.c. is controlled by the congress so congress does have that authority. he said it would be inexpedient to outlaw slavery. slavery, in d.c. but it would be expedient to end the slave trade in d.c. you see the balance? and for the south, now both new
mexico and california would eventually be free. and everybody knew that. what's the south going to get? a tougher fugitive slave law. slaves were constantly running away and getting help from northerners. and some northern states had laws that forbear its police to do anything about capturing those slaves and returning them to their owners. and that had to be stopped so that webster's argument on the slave trade, which northerners are going to hate, is the
argument that daniel webster will get up and event and say, this is the law. this is property. it's protected under the constitution. you have an obligation to follow the law. it's not up to you to decide which laws you will update and which you will not. we've been through that with the nullification controversy when south carolina said it nullified the tariff laws within its state. you can't do it. you can't pick and choose. and as far as all of these recommendations were concerned, they were part of a package, in combination, one depending on the other. the president, zachary taylor, wanted california to be admitted as a state, as a separate item.
and clay was opposed. you break the linkage between all of them, you don't have an equal distribution. and the problem would be that he could choose his presidential veto to pick and choose of the resolutions. i would veto this one and i will approve that. and then the compromise is gone. it all has to come together. as one package. not necessarily as one bill, but they have to be linked. you can't remove one and not the other. and a man by the name of henry
foote got up and recommended that if all of the eight bills go to a special committee that would come back with a single bill, and henry clay opposed that. they have to be separate but connected, not part of the whole. because then you give to the senators a choice, the whole or nothing. where if they have separate votes taken go for one and against another, and you have a better chance. and he said this is an omnibus bill that foote is recommending. using the latest form of early transportation, the omnibus was an unfortunate term.
but that's what the bill was called, omnibus bill. and a committee that included people like daniel webster and henry clay was the chairman. and he worked, not only on the people who supported compromise, but on those people who were opposed, had reservations, whatever. that's what leadership does. in the meantime, john c. calhoun, who is a member of the senate, got up to speak. he was so ill. he died within a few weeks. he couldn't read his speech, and he gave it to john mason to read for him. and what he did was condemn the north for its constant
harassment, went back to the northwest where the area to the north was declared off limits for slavery. again and again and again, this government has been hostile to the interests of the south. and it needs to back off. i fear, he said, secession is inevitable. and webster then got up. he is famous speech in which he said, i rise today to speak, not as a northern man, not as a massachusetts man, but as an american. hear me for my cause. and he blamed both sides for not
recognizing the importance of the union and doing everything that they could to maintain it. the outcome of course was inevitable. the bill was brought to the senate floor, and in the meantime, zachary taylor on the fourth of july came out here when they were dedicating the washington monument that was going up. drank a lot of water, and vegetables, listened to a speech in the boiling heat of july that went on for hours.
and he finally rushed back to the white house, drank more water and proceeded to die within the next few days, typhoid. and that got rid of the president because the vice president, fillmore, was a great supporter of the compromise. and a good friend of henry clay. clay and taylor never got along. when a clay came to the white house, they said clay was the president. everybody paid attention to him. not to zachary taylor. who was really a general. he didn't look like much except when he was on a horse. people were saying, yeah, that's a session come. we've got a man who is president
of the united states who is a military general. he will show us, the south, is that what you want? reduce it to a military conflict? so when the vote came in the senate, the whole package or nothing, it went down to defeat. henry clay collapsed in his seat. you gave the senators consent, a choice, the whole thing or nothing. i can't vote set a northerners for a bill that includes a fugitive slave law. give me the right to pick and choose, i'll vote in favor of california and new mexico and
the resolutions on the district of columbia. but i will never vote for the fugitive slave law. poor clay, he was really, he didn't have much time to live. he left to go north to try to regain his health. and fortunately, the senator from illinois took over. he never approved the package deal, because he said the package deal ignites the enemies of compromise. what we need to do is to unite the friends of the union. and he then proceeded to have each one of the bills reintroduced and passed.
and by the end of the summer, the compromise of 1850, and he admitted it was clay's compromise, those were the resolutions. it passed. and then it went to the house where they were arguing. in fact, during the discussions, one man by the name of -- got up and lambasted thomas hart benton, the senator from missouri. and then took a just so long, and he got up and he started for foote and foote kept backing up and backing up and backing up,
until his back was against the desk of the vice president. and benton kept coming towards him, and foote stuck his hand in his jacket and pulled out a pistol. and, of course, been stopped dead in his tracks and said, shoot, you damned assassin, shoot. another senator took the pistol away from foote. and foote said i was only trying to protect myself. but this is happening on the floor of the senate. and it was worse in a way in the house where they were so many of them, they were fistfights. the sergeant at arms said if there had been an explosion it couldn't have been any worse. it ended in a melee. but now, you see, the compromise
had passed, and everybody recognized that the south would not succeed. the men who attended the national convention -- than nashville convention argued in favor of the secession, decided to allow congress to decide the issue. and so, they got the thing passed. the south didn't secede. and 410 years, the north prepared itself so that when he came again, and henry clay was dead, and who did they have,
james buchanan and millard fillmore and franklin pierce, all of those biggies. [laughter] >> as you can instead, there is nothing i can do -- as buchanan said, there's nothing i can do. they have the perfect right to secede. he should have done what andrew jackson did. threatened them. i'll make a frog pond of your state and dispatch the soldiers. and then all of a sudden, they found abraham lincoln. it's incredible. he had two years experience in the house of representatives. he served illinois of course. who knew that this man would have the talent, would have the
leadership. he would have to do hard things. he did many unconstitutional things, and went to the congress and said, nothing i have done that you can't give me the authority to do, because it has to be done. in order to save the union. if to save the union i have to free the slaves, i will do that. if to say the union, i only free some of them, i will do whatever it takes to save the union. and that's why i have titled this book henry clay and the compromise that saved the union. thank you very much. [applause]
>> if you have any questions i'll be glad to attempt to respond. and if we you would use the microphones so that everybody can hear them. >> if the package of resolutions, if it didn't pass as a package, if the senate we voted and cherry pick what they like, then how did the compromise work? all the pieces have to fit together eric so on that later though, how did it work? >> the problem is if you take one away, then the balance between what each section gets is thrown off, and then they will not accept it. >> so when they we voted, they we voted all? >> it worked out there were
enough votes for each one of the resolutions to get them past, where the omnibus united the enemies of compromise, the separate bills united the people who wanted to save the union. >> thank you. >> sir? >> i'm sorry. >> it's all right. why did it fall -- how did it fall on clay to broker this compromise? what was it about him in the senate that led him for the consensus that you talk about. >> it was unique. and webster had it, too. there was something about this country that they -- you know, he had a vision your he could
foresee that it would be a powerful industrialized nation. and at one point he developed what he called the american system in which there would be terrorists to protect industry. they would be internal improvements, the building of railroads, bridges and canals, and such. and a central bank so that our currency and credit would be as strong as possible. and andrew jackson, as you probably know, each of the bank. we didn't have a central bank then until we got the federal reserve. and you need a central bank. a central bank really controls money, and sees to it that the
money is good and worth its value. okay? >> i know he is not one of your biggies but i'm from new york so i might be biased. you're from new york as well? [laughter] >> millard fillmore as you've described is an important ingredient in this compromise, and yet you also don't seem to think much of them. neither do many historians i think because of his signing of the fugitive slave law. to what cute a treatment the disparity between henry clay being a hero of the compromise were as millard fillmore is almost disparaged for it because of his reputation and his signing of the fugitive slave law? >> i'm not sure what you're asking. >> millard fillmore is almost
attacked for implementing henry clay's compromise. just because they focused on the one aspect of the fugitive slave law. and so he was like, you know, you are praising henry clay so much, and rightly so, but that millard fillmore does not get much credit for the compromise. for the enactment of it. >> true. i just centering it on henry clay. because he's the man who came up with the basic ideas. see, they all knew that there were problems. one of the problems i didn't mention that he solved was the texas border. texas and new mexico quarreled over their border. texas -- texas was going to send troops in, and clay comes up
with a proposal that if texas would back off and surrendered any claim to new mexico territory, we will pay texas' debt acquired before annexation. so that texas get something, but it gives up something. and for the eight resolutions, this is quite remarkable. he could see how they were connected. you can't just deal with new mexico and say, all right, it will be a territory. texas is going to say, that part is mine. and you've got to get them to back off. how do you do that?
nobody had the answer. and then this is what clay did. again, i'm not sure i'm answering your question. >> that's fine. >> it reminded me of something i wanted to mention in my pocket and forgot. [laughter] >> excellent presentation. one of the comments you said was that if the war had been thought 10 years later, the south probably would have won. >> it didn't happen. >> right, but -- >> it's my view. >> and in what you said the north was in touch was so much in those intermediary 10 years. did you think that the north deliberately got on some sort of -- >> no. it was in the process of developing. they had the railroads.
they had industry. they will have the men. one of the things that john c. calhoun complaint about was more people go to the north instead of coming to the south. that's not our problem. you know, that's the way things are. and once the north continues its industrialization, it has the means of sustaining an army on the field, 100,000. again and again and again. the south can't do that. the south doesn't have the railroads. the south doesn't have a deep those. -- the depots. look how well they defended themselves. >> but do you think the population as a whole thought the compromise was a permanent solution or just a short-term?
>> it's hard to say. but they knew that it prevented at that time, because the feelings on both sides have been so educated. things quieted down, and everybody said we have passed a crisis and it is gone. they knew eventually it will come back, and it did. one prophetic thing that was said, and i think is true, to, and foote said it. he said if henry clay had been alive in 1860, there would have been no civil war. i think that's true. he would have found a solution. what did they do? they came up with clay's old
solutions. you know, like the missouri compromise, 3630. slavery below, no slavery north of it. he knew that was -- that was a solution to a previous problem. it's not the same anymore. so they went to war. yes, ma'am. >> could you speak to the relationship between stephen douglas and henry clay? >> between -- >> the relationship between stephen douglas and henry clay. you didn't mention stephen douglas by name but it done and a lot of legwork to get -- >> i'm sorry, the relationship between -- >> stephen douglas and henry clay. >> and -- >> henry clay. >> stephen douglas by the way, in case i didn't mention it, is the man who then took over after clay left washington to go
bathing up in rhode island. that relationship was perfectly -- it wasn't close. douglas disagreed with the omnibus solution, and said so, and walked away from it. but as soon as the omnibus went down to defeat, he jumps up and takes control and gets all of those bills passed. so he deserves a great deal of credit for the compromise of 1850. and as such, he became a leading presidential candidate. and in 1860, he ran against abraham lincoln and lost. thank god.
sir. >> a couple of quick questions. given the clays -- given the clays perspective on slavery, what was his relationship of the abolitionists in congress? and the second question i just quickly, i didn't quite understand how slavery in the district of columbia became part of one of those resolutions. i was under the impression that issue is not settled until just prior to the emancipation proclamation. the issue came up again. i was surprised to hear that issues included slavery and the district of coney was part of the compromise of the legislation. so if you can elaborate on that i would appreciate it. >> well, clay said slavery in our time cannot be solved. for one thing, we have had it too long.
and the american people, and this i think is interesting, what they have been doing year after decade after decade is hard for even though it is not to their benefit, it is hard for them to give it up. in fact, it's impossible. and another reason is there was so much money invested in slavery. you know, producing the goods that was sold around the world. you have to recognize, the south has a real argument in that the government is not helping us. it's helping the north. but slavery is immoral.
what are you going to do? and it reminds me again and again of what seems to be the impossible issues to solution that faced us today. and what's going to happen. iran with a nuclear bomb. what are we going to do about that? attack it? well, i don't mean to create problems. where am i? this site. >> could you go through the gate part of this, or at least those that are most germane, and tell us what it was that the anti-slavery people gave up in the compromise, and what it was that the pro-secession people gave up.
>> i thought that's what my talk was all about. >> but you didn't go into the details. you didn't go into the details. >> read my book. [laughter] [applause] >> last question. >> what was it that you think senator clay felt it was necessary to abandon the governments steps in 1820, it wasn't about slavery had changed so much in those 30 years. it seems, you know, was it not presently this position we shall return and continue on with the compromise of 1820. >> you're going back to the missouri compromise? >> yes, sir. >> and henry clay. >> it seems that had kind of competition thinks. >> a slave state, missouri, that detaches itself from massachusetts and comes in, to
balance that out. as far as the question of slavery in the territories, in the louisiana territories was reduced to that. it cut in half. >> so what did change? >> it was produced by others. in fact, 3630 line, and should slavery opened up. it didn't say that you have slavery. see that became a problem that the southerners recognize is that the geography in some areas like new mexico was such that slavery would never exist there. they couldn't grow the cotton or the tobacco or the sugar that you need if you're going to have a big force of slaves to work it.
and, you know, they were working against what looked to be a loss to this country, that they would be reduced to a small area in the south. and that was impossible for them to accept, especially if they felt that the government was doing what it could to help the north against the south. >> we're out of time. thank you for coming. [applause] >> robert remini has authored biographies of john quincy adams, daniel webster and henry clay. he also received the national book award for his work on
andrew jackson. you can watch other programs with robert remini at booktv.org. >> we are here at the conservative political action conference talking with amanda pritzker from sentinel. can you tell us what's coming out of this your? >> absolutely. would you cannot with secretary rumsfeld's book this week. we are very, very excited that he is there signing books today. and at the end of the month we have governor huckabee's next book, a simple government which is coming out at the end of february. in march we have found a stay, larry schweitzer's next book. >> can you tell us about your latest book? >> sure. i looked at 10 issues that seem to be at the top of the news today. everything to government bailouts, together and to religion and i went back through this document of the founders. not what it said but what they have read and what they have
an individual right, not just for personal defense, but so that the people collectively would be as well armed as the government in case they ever had to get rid of the government. >> tell us about your next project. >> it's a huge project. it's the patriot's history of the modern world from 1998 to the present. >> what led you to take on such an enormous task? >> it sorted stair-stepped up from smaller segments of american history, and then the patriot's history of the, and i thought, well, somebody needs to look at how a patriotic american would see things. so much of the history is written by europeans who don't have a necessarily high view of the united states. we need one of america to be put throughout the world. >> thank you for your t